By Tom Ward
The new Superhero film “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” comes out this weekend and is expected to tally huge box office receipts. Captain America first burst onto the scene with his own comic book cover-dated March 1941 and on sale in December of 1940 was co-created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
The first film version of the character appeared in a movie serial starring actor Dick Purcell in 1944 called Captain America. The next adaptation of Captain America was in a TV movie in 1979 starring Reb Brown. Then in 2011, “Captain America: The First Avenger” hit the big screen delivering blockbuster numbers with actor Chris Evans in the title role. With all the hype about the new movie going on it made me think about my friend artist Allen Bellman who was there back in the 1940’s in the offices of Timely (now known as Marvel) comics when those early adventures of Captain America and his loyal sidekick Bucky were being penciled and inked.
Recently, I spoke with Allen who these days lives down in Florida with his lovely wife Roz. I asked Allen when he first started working on the Captain America comic books back in the 1940’s if he could have ever envisioned the character coming to life on the silver screen?
Bellman recalled, ”I remember when Syd Shores who was the 2nd artist on Capt. America went into induction to the service and he was waiting under a movie marquee somewhere for a group of people to go together and there was a sign of a movie serial that was coming staring an actor called Dick Purcell. It was like a 12 chapter serial with cliff hangers each week and we were all thrilled at the time. That was the first incarnation of the character on film. Boy, I remember the actor Purcell running around in his underwear riding a motorcycle brandishing a gun without a shield. When the people in Hollywood made a movie out of any comic books or comic strips they really changed it around making it different because they just didn’t have any conception to the original idea. Watching those movies were still like Wow! Especially those Flash Gordon serials. I got to meet the actor Buster Crabbe who played Flash in the movies when I was living in Brooklyn where there was a movie theater that had vaudeville called the Folley theater. He was appearing there in person and I wanted to meet him so I lied telling the people running the show that I was writing for my junior high school newspaper and it worked.” Allen continued,” The next time Cap showed up in a movie it was in 1979 and the film just didn’t capture my fancy. It didn’t impress me at all. I remember that Stan Lee wasn’t even impressed. Stan said it wasn’t until Disney bought Marvel that things changed for the better. It took a few years to make the Captain America movie and the interest kept building up for the film to come out. I think Captain America is now more popular than Superman.”
It turned out Allen and his wife Roz were invited to the first Captain America movie premiere back in 2011 and Allen told me that’s something he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
During our conversation Allen told me about those early days at Timely. He said, “I can remember clearly every face of the people I worked with back in those early days at Timely Comics( now Marvel). I was working there before Stan Lee became editor. Stan’s uncle Robbie Solomon was the brother-in-law to the publisher Marin Goodman. Nobody really knew what Solomon’s job was. I guess he was just keeping an eye on everyone. I want to tell you a little story and it’s something that I’m ashamed of that involves Stan Lee. One day he came into the office with a bottle of cough syrup and a spoon and I being an 18-year-old kid at the time said to him “Hey Stan! Is that the silver spoon you were born with?” It’s something I did that I regretted, but at the time I thought it was funny as I was a smart ass kid. Stan was good to work with and he’s a year and a half older than me. I always like to tell the story when I started working in the McGraw Hill building in New York City I didn’t see Stan Lee. I never knew he worked there previously, but I heard about him. About 2 or 3 weeks later I see Stan walking behind Robbie Solomon. Solomon died a very early death and after that Stan never walked behind anyone else again. Solomon used to annoy the artists terribly as he became a critic and he was a former ladies hat salesman. Years later when I met Joe Simon who created Captain America I asked him what he thought about Solomon? Simon said,” Oh! That bastard. He used to get on my back telling me to draw like this or draw like that. He really antagonized the artists.” He was breaking Stan in at the time, but Stan was good with the artists and got along with everyone and he really made Marvel. When he put in Stan Lee presents this and Stan Lee presents that it he gave everyone credit.” Then Allen asked me if I had seen Stan’s latest TV commercial? “It’s for the U.S. Post office and Spiderman is tumbling all over town with a package and arrives at a door and Stan is there saying Amazing! They’re really knocking it out.” Bellman continued saying “ In the beginning I was working mostly on backgrounds for artist Syd Shores Captain America drawing windows, trees, automobiles which I thought was so boring. I had no creativity to exert at the time. I did all my artwork in what was called a bullpen area. We had your basic 9 to 5 hours there. I always wanted to ink my own stuff. You know what happens you start inking and you get tired of the story and that’s not good. If I had to do it over I would only pencil. Sometimes you love a story you’re doing and you can’t wait till you inked it and then you’re doing another story and its boring. I can remember certain characters like Beartie Heart who was a reporter. It stood out in my mind and it kept my interest. It’s like an actor getting script and saying either I like it or I don’t. We didn’t have the opportunity to turn down any stories that we received because we were always in fear of our jobs. Eventually they just started to give me the Captain America character and others to draw. It’s my belief that Captain America will go on forever at least in my lifetime and more. In 2007, I had a chance to personally thank Joe Simon in New Jersey at a comic book convention created by Michael Uslan. I said Thank you Joe. He said,” For what?” Well, When you and Jack Kirby moved you left an opening for me and that’s how I got Timely/ Marvel job.”
That’s when Simon stared to laugh.”Not too long along someone informed him he told me that he is the only artist left that worked on Captain America in the 1940’s. Stan Lee of course wasn’t an artist. Bellman will turn 90 this June and mentioned to me that he has only been doing the comic book convention circuit for about 10 years and loves meeting with all the fans.
He said, “It’s just amazing to me because on my Facebook page the fans write to me and I’m overwhelmed and surprised by their interest in me. The people that come to me as fans are my lifeline and that keeps me out of the rocking chair.”
Allen commented to me that this year Marvel is celebrating their 75th year in comic books and will have a big booth at the San Diego Comic con. He is looking forward to attending as a guest because it’s something he wants to do more than anything is to go back to San Diego in July as he ‘s been there twice before.
Before hanging up Allen said, “I had the opportunity to tell the people at Marvel you owe me nothing. I would just like to be recognized. Not only me, but the guys who were there that paved the way for what they are doing today.”
To learn more about the long and illustrious career of Allen Bellman checkout his website at www.Allenbellman.com because it’s loaded with lots of great information along with photos and artwork from one of the last living legends that was there from a truly golden era of comics.